Saturday, March 28, 2009

Herb of the Year, Bay Laurel

Herb of the Year 2009….Bay
(excerpt article from The Essential Herbal)

Laurus nobilis means renowned and suggests greatness. Ever seen a fully grown Bay tree before? Sixty feet is not uncommon in Mediterranean regions where it grows in the wild. What are we talking about? Why the Herb of the Year for 2009, of course. Bay.

Back in the early 1990’s the International Herb Association created a program where an herb was designated to be studied during that particular year. An herb must fit a certain criteria in order to make such a prestigious list. Criteria must be met in the culinary and medicinal usage of the herb. Ornamental, cosmetic and crafting usage must also fit the criteria as well.

According to lore, Apollo, the Greek god of the sun, pined after the nymph Daphne. Daphne wanted nothing to do with Apollo so her father changed her into a bay tree whereby Apollo declared the tree eternally sacred. The tree became a symbol of glory, great achievement and honor. Men and women throughout Greece and Rome wore bay woven into wreaths on their heads as a symbol of great achievement. The bay tree was revered so highly as a symbol of greatness that it was considered an evil omen if the tree ever died.

In more modern times, bay has been used medicinally to relieve flatulence and has the ability to soothe the stomach. Testing is ongoing to see if the oil from Bay helps alleviate the symptoms of rheumatism. Bay is also known for its astringent qualities. Studies of the essential oil of Bay have shown fungicidal properties. In the kitchen Bay has been found in every soup, stew and meat roasting recipe since early times. While Bay is not truly edible due to its very sharply shaped leaf, a fresh leaf added to a culinary dish (then fished out before serving) adds a delicious flavor. Dried Bay leaves are found in every grocery store on every corner. Read on and see how easy it is to grow your own. You will never buy one of those dusty spice bottles ever again.

Growing Bay is not hard if you have a warm place to let it grow in the winter. Bay is a fairly tender perennial in most regions of the United States with California and southern Florida being the exception. Bay can be grown outside in a very large pot or even in the ground but must be kept warm if temps drop lower than 40 degrees F. Leaves will be burned from frost which harms the entire plant. Bay grows very slowly often taking many years to get to its height. Our Bay is over ten years old and is not much over three feet tall. Taken outside in late spring, it spends the entire summer in its honorable position in the gardens or on the deck. Then as the days grow shorter we find a warm sunny spot for it in the greenhouse. Bay does not require heavy watering and can go many days without a drink. A slight wilt to the leaves indicates it is time to water. Full sun with a little afternoon shade ensures a happy plant. Lots of air circulation is helpful too. Bay can suffer from scale and mildew if it is too wet. Washing the branches and stems with a diluted solution of rubbing alcohol will stop scale in its tracks.

We recommend buying a small Bay plant from a reputable nursery for an easy start to many years of growing. Starting Bay from seed is frustrating to say the least. Seed is very expensive and very slow to germinate if it germinates at all. It can take anywhere from four to ten weeks before any signs of germination appear. Cuttings taken from the fresh new growth, in the fall of the year, may yield a small crop of Bay seedlings. But often it takes years before the plant is of a hardy size. Cuttings can take upwards of ten months or more before roots appear.

Crafting with herbs can be a great way to spend an enjoyable and fragrant afternoon. Bay, while not as fragrant as lavender or rosemary, lends itself well to wreath making. Branches can be twined together to form a simple Bay wreath that can be dressed up with dried chili pepper bunches, rosemary sprigs or even cloves of Garlic. As long as it is not hanging in the sun, a Bay wreath will last many, many years.

We think Bay is a very good choice for Herb of the Year.
Written by Michele Brown for The Essential Herbal magazine
Side note: Bay quantities are getting low due to high demand. Order yours soon.

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